You know you’re in for a good time when a Doctor Who episode uses the familiar set-up of a small group of people trapped in a confined space being terrorized by an intangible enemy. “The Waters of Mars” perfected it, and “Listen” made it as scary as possible. Now we’ve got an episode that, for now, is nothing more than pure, joyous comfort food for Doctor Who fans. The set-up isn’t even a cliché, nor is it quite a safety net. It’s simply one of the many aces Doctor Who keeps up its sleeve, the kind of story that’s purposefully designed to bring out the delectably dangerous side of the show.
In this latest two-part opener, the Doctor and Clara find themselves dragged to the darkest depths of the seas in the near-future. Arriving in a mining base, they promptly agitate a pair of ghostly creatures. The Doctor being the Doctor, he clearly knows they can’t possibly be ghosts at all. Not even the crew of the base, who they eventually find, can convince him of this. That is until all other possibilities are extinguished, and the Doctor comes to the ultimate conclusion – they must be ghosts!
Toby Whithouse, who’s been writing for Doctor Who on-and-off since 2006, exudes a tremendous sense of fun with his script, which clearly revels in being able to use one of the many classic set-ups to get the story going. What’s odd here is that, at present, there doesn’t seem to be anything overly adventurous in setting “Under the Lake” aside from previous crew-trapped-and-tortured-by-invisible-enemy-themed episodes, but that doesn’t stop “Under the Lake” from being a whole lotta fun. There is of course the added sense of menace as well, especially the final shot of the Doctor, seemingly leaving Clara and the crew to go back in time to a point where he can avert the creatures appearing on the base, returning in a terrifying ghostly form.
“Under the Lake” has a far more hooky atmosphere than the previous two-parter, which is saying something when you’ve got Davros and the Daleks to enjoy! The lack of Missy also helps the episode to breath a great deal, almost feeling like a fresh start for the series. She’s great fun to watch, but hopefully we won’t see her again until much later on, giving this series a chance to be as experimental as possible with its two parters (we already know that an upcoming episode will feature the Doctor as the only character.).
However, “Under the Lake” has nothing to do with being experimental. This episode is pure comfort food. It remains to be seen whether or not “Before the Flood” will change this perception or merely add to it, but for now this is Doctor Who at its safest, its most innocent, and arguably its most enjoyable. “Under the Lake” is a solid, bog-standard caper for Doctor Who, and sometimes we need these types of episodes to act as a tonic against others.
Overall grade: B
+ The Doctor’s little speech about how he takes delight in how evil this new enemy is.
+ Alien references
– Sonic Sunshades just aren’t as cool as screwdrivers.
– Since when does the Doctor need cue cards? He’s the friggin’ Doctor, not Sheldon Cooper!
So… what exactly HAS become of the sonic screwdriver?